The Pen is Mightier Than, Well, Everything

by Chris Markham. 0 Comments

A couple of weeks ago, I sat in rapt attention as the President of the United States delivered (or, more than likely read) his State of the Union Speech. Most of the highlights were hit: America is strong (doubtful); the economy is recovering (as long as more and more people drop out of the workforce, the unemployment numbers can remain artificially low); and peace and prosperity for all Americans are just around the corner.
These are standard sentiments that just about all Presidents have used at one time or another. They’re just like the “R,S,T,L,N and E” given to Wheel of Fortune contestants during the final puzzle; so common as to not only be meaningless, but also to be a placeholder, dicta if you will, for the remainder of the speech. (On a separate note, I would mightily respect a president that walked into the House of Representatives and said something along the lines of “Folks, we’re in a mighty bad way”.)
Regardless of how I feel about the above-mentioned topics, one thing that I know chilled me to the bone was the President’s insistence that if, stymied by Congress, he would act unilaterally through Executive Orders. For example, if POTUS has a neat, new way of jump-starting the economy that is being shot down by Congress, BOOM, he can will the new program into law by a jerk of his pen.
This is how tyrannies and monarchies are run.
Back in the ye olde dayes ofe oure countrye, some of the smartest men who ever lived congregated in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to draft the United States Constitution. The Articles of Confederation having failed to deliver us to the country we desired. In their wisdom, the framers of the Constitution decided neither the executive, legislative nor judicial branches would be able to act unilaterally, i.e., one branch could not set law for the country without a check by the other two branches. Thus, we had, apparently, the system where the legislative branch can pass a law, the executive branch would review said law and sign it, and the judicial branch, if required, could determine whether the law was constitutional.
This system works, and has kept us on the straight and narrow for a couple hundred years. Sure, the executive branch as acted unilaterally in the past, but usually it was by agreement of at least one other branch that the other two really didn’t want to get involved in the issue contemplated. How, however, it seems as though the POTUS has found the key to the issue that stymied legendary presidents such as Carter, Hoover, Wilson and Buchanan – no need to get approval on things you want, just go for it!
This, as you can see, would be very, very bad.
As it stands, President Obama, in my opinion, takes too many liberties with the powers of his office. The never-ending stream of executive pronouncements regarding the implementation of Obamacare immediately comes to mind (as does the NMDA Act, which, when before the president, allowed the Government to illegally incarcerate any American citizen if it is suspected said citizen is engaged in terrorist activities against the United States. POTUS hand wrote in the margin of the bill that the specific provision enabling such a seizure would not be enforced), but what else could he possibly dream up? And while executive orders may be a good (if not constitutional) way to complete your agenda, is it really in the best interest of the country?
Two other things: First, this “method” of governance is going to be a financial boon to public interest attorneys. Due to the questionable legality and providence of these orders, citizens and public institutions alike will be suing the living crap out of the government. Or at least they should.
Second, I complain a great deal about this on my Twitter feed (shameless plug for @chrism168) but, if we all remember correctly, POTUS was a lecturer on constitutional law at the University of Chicago, School of Law. If anyone should have a cursory knowledge of the power of executive orders (and, again, their unconstitutionality), it should be him. Sure, there are a few instances where such orders were taken before the Supreme Court, (Youngstown Steel vs. Sawyer comes to mind) and that specific order was deemed in the best interest of the country at that time.
If I didn’t think this was going to end badly before, I certainly think it will now.

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